In times past I felt I had a pretty organized refrigerator. After all, I could find what I needed…usually. And things tipped over and drooled down the side of the refrigerator and pooled at the bottom under the crisper drawers only occasionally. But one day, as I was lying on the floor halfway in the refrigerator, trying to scrape up a large, thick pool of what once had been barbecue sauce, I’d had enough! I was tired of finding fuzzy fried chicken. I was done with opening a container only to find a moldy, semi-liquefied glob of who knows what. I was sick of wasting money buying things that I already had three or four of because they were lost in the back of the refrigerator or freezer. I didn’t want to waste one more minute cleaning congealed blood from the back wall. There was a better way!
This post is intended to help you save money, save time, and save frustration.
I’ve seen so many friends and family members storing milk on a shelf in the door. They may wonder why their milk seems to go bad very quickly. Others (like I once did) spend hours scrubbing away sticky, cold pools of unidentifiable goo. Food that could have been packed as lunches or used for a leftover night ends up in a landfill. And the freezer is no better! Food is purchased only to be sent to the freezer like an Antarctic explorer. It’s only found after it has died of freezer burn and the only thing left to do is give it a proper burial.
But you don’t have to experience any of that again! I’m not saying you’ll never have to clean your refrigerator/freezer again but the chore can be much less time consuming and you can save money, too!
Did you know that your refrigerator has different temperature zones? If you’re just throwing things in where they fit you’re wasting food and money. In order to get the full benefits of your refrigerator you should keep the temperature set at 40°F or lower. The freezer should be kept at 0°F. This will prevent foods (if stored in the right area) from spoiling and potentially making your family sick. But don’t just depend on the temperature you set for the refrigerator and freezer. The closer to the cooling element of the unit the colder things stay.
Here’s the breakdown:
Air circulation: Air needs to circulate through the refrigerator to keep temperatures consistent. Don’t over pack the refrigerator or you’ll find food spoiling more quickly.
The Door: This is the warmest place in your refrigerator. Juices (especially high acid juices like lemon juice), non-dairy sauces, and condiments (a word on that later) are candidates for door storage. The door is also a good place to keep pop (soda) and bottled water. Do not keep dairy products or eggs in the door!
Crisper Drawers: Crisper drawers are designed to maintain moist conditions that help preserve fruits and vegetables but many fruits like apples, peaches, pears, cantaloupes, and pears produce a chemical that helps them ripen (ethylene). The ethylene they produce can also cause ripening in other plants which means your vegetables turn yellow, grow limp, and may even sprout! Keep vegetables in one drawer and fruit in another. You’ll want to wash all fruits and vegetables before eating but moist isn’t wet. Dry these items with a paper towel after washing. Berries are very delicate so wash them when you’re ready to eat them or no more than a day or two before. Ideally, berries should be stored on the top shelf. Store greens, after washing, in a plastic bag or clear container with a paper towel to soak up the extra moisture. Change the paper towel if it becomes very damp. The back of the crisper drawer is the place for greens. Herbs can be stored in the crisper drawer in the same way as other greens but I prefer to keep mine like little bouquets. I wash herbs then blot them with a paper towel and keep the cut ends in a glass with a little water and cover them with a plastic bag. And to prevent the water from becoming a waterfall I turn to my trusty plastic bins.
Lower Shelves: These shelves are the coldest part of the refrigerator. Eggs, raw meat, seafood, and dairy should be on these shelves. Never store raw meats/seafood/fish above cooked items. The best way to prevent bacteria from spreading is to keep the raw meat in its packaging in a plastic bin or on a plate larger than the package.
Upper Shelves: One of my sons was a restaurant manager for many years. He taught me that the upper shelves have the most consistent temperatures and foods that don’t require cooking should be stored there. Tortillas, leftovers, and deli meats are examples. And remember berries are best stored on the upper shelves. I keep a plastic bin with salad dressings, ketchup, mustard, barbeque sauce, etc. on this shelf. If a not-quite-closed bottle tips all or almost all of the spilled contents end up in the box not down the wall and into the bottom of the refrigerator.
The Top of the Fridge: Please don’t store any you’re going to consume on the top of the refrigerator! While the inside is cold the condenser coil is pumping warm air out and we all know warm air rises. If you’re storing bread up there it will mold very fast. A friend stored wine bottles up there and couldn’t understand why it was “off.” Wine + heat = bad wine. I try to keep the top of the refrigerator clear of anything but I have been known to put a vase or two up there.
What not to store in the refrigerator: Tomatoes should be kept at room temperature. In the refrigerator they lose their scent and become mealy. Onions, potatoes, and squash prefer cooler temperatures with low moisture. A dark cupboard or a root cellar are best for them. But don’t store your onions next to the potatoes! Most fruit does better on the counter top but you can refrigerate them to slow ripening.
What can but doesn’t need to be stored in the refrigerator: Whole grain flours contain healthy oils and will last longer if stored in the refrigerator. The same is true of oils low in saturated fat like canola oil, safflower oil, and olive oil. Nuts, nut butters, and nut flour do fine in the cupboard but refrigerating those items helps maintain the natural oils and keeps nut butters from separating. If you’re not going to use these up within a few weeks put them in the refrigerator.
The Freezer: Unlike the refrigerator, your freezer works at its best when it’s tightly packed. Of course you’ll store ice and any foods you purchased frozen (unless you’re thawing it immediately) in the freezer. But your freezer can store a lot more than frozen peas! Pasta, pasta sauce, tortillas, and even flour can be frozen. I put shredded zucchini measured out for zucchini bread in plastic bags in the freezer. To save space flatten freezer bags containing things like shredded vegetables, shredded cheese (only freeze cheese you will use in cooking. The texture changes and, although it’s fine to use frozen mozzarella in lasagna it won’t make a great snack.) I even flatten my vacuum-sealed bags of hamburger to make them stackable. Keep things well organized. I keep an inventory of what is in my freezer so when I make my grocery list I don’t buy unnecessary duplicates. Bread can be frozen for up to three months. But refrigerating it dries it out.
By storing food in the proper place and leaving room for air circulation in the refrigerator and packing your freezer tightly and knowing what is in it you’ll save time and money.
Sample Freezer Inventory